Leading Environmental Groups Oppose Austin’s Strong Mayor Proposal
Austin – Clean Water Action, PODER, the Sierra Club’s Austin Group, the Save Our Springs Alliance. Save Barton Creek Association and the Austin Environmental Democrats have all announced their opposition to Proposition F, the “strong mayor” proposal that Austinites will be voting on this May 1. Prop. F, one of several proposed amendments to the city’s charter, would replace Austin’s current “council – manager” form of government with a “mayor – council” system. This would abolish the city manager position and empower the mayor to appoint, supervise and fire heads of city departments. Prop. F would also give the mayor veto power over city council decisions, and the council would need a super-majority to override these vetoes.
“This proposal would concentrate too much power in the hands of a single position – the mayor -- while reducing the power of council members who are elected by district,” said David Foster, Clean Water Action’s State Director. “This would be a jarring departure from the way Austin is governed now, and no one can say for certain that some future mayor won’t chose to undermine our city’s long-standing commitments to water conservation, clean energy, watershed protection and more by appointing department heads who are indifferent or hostile to these values. The council would not be in a position to prevent this.”
"Our government should represent the experiences of all residents and all parts of town, not just the viewpoints of one person elected at large," said Susana Almanza, Director of People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER). "Putting so much power in the hands of the mayor will diminish the voices of people of color."
Save Our Springs Executive Director Bill Bunch echoed these concerns: “While SOS appreciates the goal of the charter amendment to enhance the accountability of the city executive and city departments, the mayoral veto would override this objective. The mayoral veto would give one person the power to impede environmental progress, during a time when we need urgent action to address the imminent impacts of climate change."
Bob Hendricks, Chair of the Austin Group of the Sierra Club, added that the proposal would increase the influence of special interest money in mayoral elections. “Council elections would lose some of their importance, and even more developer and big tech money would pour into expensive city-wide mayoral campaigns. This would very much be to the detriment of ordinary Austinites and our environment.”
"Austin is a city with a strong environmental ethic, and we typically have several council members who understand the benefits of clean air and water, parks, and natural areas to current and future residents,” said Angela Richter, Executive Director of the Save Barton Creek Association. “We can't predict who will be elected mayor in the future and we shouldn't take the chance that this person could dismantle generations of work to make Austin a livable environmental city. "
Eight-nine percent of the membership of the Austin Environmental Democrats also voted to opposes Prop. F in a recent online ballot.